The people from the tiny village of Balcombe in a High Court battle with Government on over oil

Tap to watch a video report by ITV News Meridian's James Dunham

Campaigners from a tiny village near Gatwick and Haywards Heath have taken their fight against oil exploration to the High Court.

Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association (FFBRA) want to overturn a decision by the Government to allow the firm Angus Energy to test for hydrocarbons in land close to houses and a school.

Those determined to stop the scheme say their would be a huge detrimental affect on the land, which is under special status for being a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Representatives from the opposition group gathered before the hearing chanting “green fields not oil fields”.

The land behind this gate is where Angus Energy has been granted permission to explore for oil

Sue Taylor from FFBRA says, “The oil well site is very close to the village and it's in a dip, which means the flare, which will run 24/7 pumping out noxious fumes is actually below the level of the houses, so it will pump pumping that pollution into people's homes and all of the large trucks will go past the village primary school, very close to it.

“If this is allowed to go through and the planning inspectors argument is that energy security has to trump everything, it would mean that nowhere would be safe, because if you can't protect an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or the South Downs, what can you protect?

“It means it's open season for everything, which is why this is such an important case.”

The threat of oil drilling has been hanging over Balcombe since 2013 when mass protests saw the arrest of outgoing Green MP Caroline Lucas to try and defend the land against fracking.

Police and protestors clashed in 2013 over fracking in the village

This latest application to explore what it describes as the ‘sweet spot’ was submitted by Angus Energy in 2020.

A year later West Sussex County Council unanimously rejected the scheme but that decision was overruled by the planning inspectorate in a shock announcement last February which granted the oil firm 30 months to investigate possible hydrocarbons.

The UK Government is looking to bolster home-grown oil supplies to reduce reliance on energy from Russia since the invasion of Ukraine.

Outgoing chief executive of Angus Energy, the current Lord Lucan, told ITV News in February, “This isn't a heavy or intrusive development. We're immensely carefully monitored by Environment Agency, Health and Safety, executive and council themselves. So we think it a very sensible decision by the inspector.”

The argument being made during the judicial review hearing is that the Planning Inspector only looked at the benefits of oil exploration rather than the harms it would have on Balcombe.

Helen Savage, who is also from the FFBRA, says, “We live in a democracy and we said no. We have said no so many times. Our parish council said no, Mid Sussex District Council said no, West Sussex County Council has looked at it and said no.

“We had thousands of people responding to consultations saying no. So why do they think it's okay to say yes?

"Particularly when you've got the UN Secretary general saying we need to fight climate change on all fronts everywhere, why does a Government think it's okay to allow more oil and gas development to go ahead? We simply don't need it. We know we don't need it.”

A decision following the two day High Court heating is expected in the autumn.

ITV News has contacted Angus Energy for further comment.

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